Guyana among countries worst ffected by HIV/AIDS -Newsweek

By Patrick Denny
Stabroek News
June 8, 2001

Guyana is worst affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic in South America, according to a Newsweek AIDS Special Report published this week.

At an estimated 3% of the population between the ages of 15-49, Guyana now faces global recognition as one of the world's hotspots for the disease.

Despite trailing Haiti and the Bahamas in the Caribbean region, Newsweek highlighted Guyana on a worldwide map of the worst affected countries. Neither Haiti nor the Bahamas were indicated.

Botswana towers over the world with a crippling 36% of its adult population affected, whilst in Asia, Cambodia has the highest rate at an estimated 4%.

Twenty years have passed since the US Federal Center for Disease Control reported on a particularly unusual outbreak of illness in the States - the AIDS epidemic was well and truly underway.

The pandemic has now claimed 22 million lives across the globe and despite efforts to identify a vaccine, only the fortunate can claim to have access to the anti-retroviral drugs that offset the inevitable.

International fears are that the disease is showing no sign of slowing down. Newsweek's Special Report intimated that even the internet may increase the spread.

The advertising of unsafe sex is becoming a norm in some of the world's website chat rooms, whilst the emergence of websites dedicated to "barebacking", or unprotected sex, is also causing international concern.

Here in Guyana, Minister of Health, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, aired concerns over the effect the epidemic will have on the economy.

"Economically, like other countries," he said, "it will have a devastating effect."

"The disease mainly affects the young population, between the ages of 15 and 39," Dr. Ramsammy asserted. "This is the productive age."

Dr. Ramsammy also said that HIV/AIDS puts a strain on the health sector that has to find money to manage patients infected with the disease.

He indicated that a cohesive management programme for HIV/AIDS in Guyana was on the way.

This can't come soon enough for a country whose "potential for take off" of the epidemic is "rapid", according to Dr. Morris Edwards of the National AIDS Programme Secretariat.

Dr. Edwards agreed that the country has some way to go before the disease is under control.